Gillian Flynn of “Sharp Objects” and “Gone Girl” fame co-writes with director Steve McQueen the screen adaptation of “Widows” starring Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo, and Liam Neeson. The thriller is set in our very own backyard of Chicago as four widows whose husbands’ criminal activities leave them in debt to the wrong people and must somehow pay it back.
“Widows” is an elemental thriller, tapping into all the right spots to give us a high intensity caper filled with a couple unexpected twists along the way. What makes this story a little different is that we have women leading the way. This adds a component of not yet utilized complexity as it delves into relationships and how these women strategize. While they may not have the braun, they’ve got the courage, intelligence, and emotional strength that just may be stronger than any physical muscle, and it makes for a much more interesting story! Don’t worry, though. There’s plenty of action, a crash and explosion or two, and a bit of violence creating a perfect balance in this good old-fashioned heist film.
We meet Veronica and Harry (Neeson) as the happy couple, living a high-end life, loving one another. We quickly find that we are looking into the past and the current times are tragic for Veronica, Linda (Rodriguez), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), and Amanda (Carrie Coon) as their husbands have all died in a violent car chase as they attempted to evade police after stealing millions of dollars. Veronica, dealing with the loss of the love of her life, is soon visited by the man her husband was to give this money to…a debt she now owes. Presented with information by her driver if anything should happen to Harry, Veronica finds herself in a precarious position and the plans to her financial freedom in her hands.
Veronica, reaching out to the other women whom she has never met, leads them in planning an intricate heist. Alice, a victim of spousal abuse, has been bullied her entire life as we see from her mother’s (Jacki Weaver) interactions. Linda is the victim of a lying husband as we see her means of living taken away in a moment’s time thanks to back money owed to yet another criminal group of men. Belle (Erivo) lives in the projects with no hope of escape until she meets these women. They are an unlikely group and have all hit rock bottom which makes their decision to pull off this robbery easier. The story becomes an empowering one as we see these women gain confidence in themselves as well as trust and friendship in one another.
Davis, not surprisingly, is powerful in this role as leader, but it is her character’s vulnerability and past emotional turmoil that allows her to give her character greater depth. This could have easily been a flat and undeveloped role, but with Davis at the helm, she creates a character we care about and one with whom we can identify. Rodriguez is finally given a role that has more complexity to it than in the past, showing us that she is an engagingly capable actress. Debicki shines in her role as we witness her approaching a crossroads in her character’s life. And Erivo is a name that will soon become a household one with her genuine attributes rising to give her character meaning and life. She stood out in “Bad Times at the El Royale” and she is strikingly memorable in “Widows.” Additionally, the dialogue and interaction among the women is not at all far-fetched as you might expect in a film in this genre. There is a realistic connection that we immediately see in their interpersonal communication, from hesitancy and frustration to loyalty, these women embody the strength of what women are capable of in crisis.
The women couldn’t have created the remarkable characters without an extraordinary script by Flynn and McQueen and under McQueen’s capable direction. While we remember that it is a thriller filled with scenarios that are impossible, the actuality of some of the situations bring it closer to reality. This is created with politics and politics in Chicago do have a certain sordid reputation. The long-standing powerful family of the Mulligans give us exactly what is needed to make the story more credible. Tom Mulligan (Robert Duvall) and his son Jack (Colin Farrell) are the perfect old school politicians, hungry for money and power as they battle newcomers Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) with his lacky and little brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya). Forget everything you loved about the sweet face of Kaluuya (“Get Out”) and be ready for a menacingly convincing performance from him.
“Widows” is an intense, complex, and exhilarating thriller that takes a chance with women as the lead. With remarkably strong performances, an incredible script, and deft direction, you begin to see that gender changes can make things more interesting…and sometimes even better.
Check out a few interviews I had with the stars at the Chicago International Film Festival!